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    Comcast bullish on TV’s future with deal

    Comcast paid $16.7b for the rest of NBCUniversal it didn’t own now rather than pay more for it later.
    Associated Press photos
    Comcast paid $16.7b for the rest of NBCUniversal it didn’t own now rather than pay more for it later.

    LOS ANGELES — Comcast’s $16.7 billion deal to buy the remaining half of NBCUniversal ahead of schedule represents a resounding vote of confidence in the future of TV, even as the growth of Internet video reshapes the entertainment landscape.

    The decision was driven largely by Comcast Corp.’s belief that it would end up paying substantially more for General Electric Co.’s remaining 49 percent stake if it had waited until 2018, as had been envisioned in 2011 when the nation’s largest cable TV provider acquired majority control of NBCUniversal.

    ‘‘We didn’t have to do this now. We chose to do it,’’ Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts said in a Wednesday interview on CNBC. ‘‘We’re bullish on the businesses we’re buying.’’


    Shares of both Comcast and GE increased Wednesday following the late Tuesday announcement.

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    The flagship NBC network, once seen as the deal’s albatross, has been on a turnaround. Broadcast TV revenue rose 5 percent last year, even after excluding the Super Bowl and the Olympics. Theme parks, the Universal Pictures movie studio, and pay TV networks such as USA and SyFy have grown, too.

    As the advertising market has rebounded with the economy, so have the fortunes of NBC­Universal and other media companies like CBS Corp. and ABC owner The Walt Disney Co. That made the latest transaction seem like a savvy one at a relatively modest price.

    ‘‘I think the television business has turned out to be much more powerful as an advertising medium than people were thinking five years ago,’’ said Jonathan Taplin, a professor specializing in digital media at the University of Southern California. ‘‘Comcast made a really smart move in believing that TV would continue to be a really important part of the advertising picture for years to come.’’

    When the deal was first disclosed in late 2009, NBC’s audience ratings were sagging badly, raising doubts about the future of the broadcast pioneer that once boasted stars such as Johnny Carson, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and Tom Brokaw.


    More recently, though, NBC has bounced back with a new hit in ‘‘The Voice’’ and has a consistent ratings leader in ‘‘Sunday Night Football’’ during the fall and early winter. By last fall, NBC could boast for the first time in a decade that it was drawing the most viewers in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic prized by advertisers. Overall, NBC still ranked behind CBS and ABC, but at least it was no longer bringing up the rear in fourth place, as had been the case for several years.

    Higher ratings translate into more advertising revenue, even though Comcast gets two-thirds of its revenue as a cable-TV and Internet access provider. NBC’s improved success from TV shows also figures to bring in higher licensing fees from the Internet video services run by Netflix Inc. and Inc.

    NBC’s turnaround is one of the main reasons Roberts wanted to take complete ownership of NBCUniversal now.

    ‘‘We thought that we would have to pay more later,’’ Roberts said in an interview Tuesday with the Associated Press.

    The deal, expected to be completed by the end of March, values NBCUniversal at $34 billion, not including $5 billion in debt. That’s about 13 percent higher than two years ago, when Comcast’s investment valued the company at about $30 billion, also excluding debt.


    Several analysts said Wednesday that Comcast got a great deal. Analyst Matthew Harrigan at Wunderlich Securities said GE ‘‘mispriced’’ the $16.7 billion deal.

    But Comcast’s chief financial officer, Michael Angelakis, said Wednesday that GE got a good deal as well, adding that GE gets a lot of cash to invest elsewhere. In a separate call, GE finance chief Keith Sherin said the company thought it was ‘‘an attractive exit price.’’

    Complete ownership will let Comcast benefit more from the rising price of sports rights and other TV programs. It avoids solely being in the uncomfortable position of passing those costs onto customers.

    Besides buying the rest of NBCUniversal, Comcast agreed to pay GE another $1.4 billion for other assets that include one of New York’s best-known landmarks, NBC’s headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.